fracking

Sun, 2014-04-27 10:00Anne Landman
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Untangling Colorado's Flood of Anti-Fracking Ballot Initiatives

Colorado voters who try to figure out all the proposed statewide ballot initiatives to regulate drilling and fracking are in for a real challenge. So far, 11 ballot initiatives have been proposed on the subject for the November vote, with many of them extremely similar to each other. 
 
It's tempting to think the oil and gas industry filed some of them as bait-and-switch measures to confuse voters and to try to pass a watered-down measure, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
 
So far all the initiatives appear to have been brought by people who truly want to change Colorado's existing regulatory regimen, which favors corporate dominance over the desires of residents.   
 
Here's a rundown on what we know so far about Colorado's slew of proposed anti-fracking ballot measures.
Fri, 2014-04-25 05:00Anne Landman
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Ohio Geologists Link Earthquakes to Fracking, State Introduces Seismic Monitoring

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced earlier this month that it will start requiring oil and gas companies to install networks of sensitive seismic monitors on their wells to detect small earthquakes that could be caused by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” 

The special requirement will kick in if companies request permits to drill horizontal wells within three miles of known fault lines, or where earthquakes greater than a 2.0 magnitude have already been recorded. If the monitors detect any tremors in excess of 1.0 magnitude, drilling must cease while experts investigate the cause of the seismic activity. 

The new rules are the department's response to recent earthquakes in Ohio's Poland Township in Mahoning County — which Rick Simmers, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resource's oil and gas division, says have a “probable connection” to hydraulic fracturing activity in the area.

The March earthquakes mark the first time state geologists in Ohio have definitively linked earthquakes to gas drilling. They believe that fracking for gas in the Utica Shale beneath the Appalachian mountains caused five earthquakes in the area by increasing pressure on a previously unknown fault. 

Ohio has also imposed an indefinite moratorium on new drilling in the area of the earthquakes, but will allow extraction to continue at five other existing wells at the site.

Wed, 2014-04-23 15:07Julie Dermansky
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Barnett Shale Fracking Victims Win First Round in Court Battle with Gas Industry

Legal tremors are reverberating in the Barnett Shale region in Texas after yesterday's $2.925 million dollar verdict in favor of the plaintiffs Bob and Lisa Parr, who sued Aruba Petroleum for damages to their health and the devaluation of their home in a fracking nuisance case.

Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel stated in a press release that the jury’s decision is important for two reasons:

When evidence of fracking’s impacts are shown to an impartial jury in a court of law, they find them to be real and significant. And it shows why the fracking industry is reluctant to allow lawsuits of this type to go to trial. Instead fracking companies try to force out of court settlements that gag the harmed family as a condition for financial compensation. They almost always succeed, hiding from the public the proof of fracking’s dangers. Consequently, industry and government continue claiming fracking is harmless. We hope this lawsuit will make regulators, in Texas and around the country, reexamine their assumptions about fracking’s dangers, and their responsibility to keep the public safe.”

The Parrs were part of an Earthworks' study entitled “Natural Gas Flowback: The Dark Side of the Boom.” The study complied data on the health effects of hydraulic fracking and gas industry activities in the Barnett Shale.

According to the report, Lisa Parr's blood and lungs were tested by Dr. William Rae of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas. The report states that Dr. Rae “found more than 20 chemicals, including six that matched the VOCs detected by TCEQ’s air sampling of the well site.”

The Parrs’ neighbors, the Ruggieros, also had to deal with the health consequences and nuisances caused by Aruba Petroleum’s operations including noise and air pollution. They settled and signed a confidentiality agreement. Though Tim Ruggiero doesn't discuss the settlement or Aruba Petroleum, he wrote a personal essay, “Leaving Gasland,” concluding that for him “Leaving Gasland is not winning, it’s merely an end to losing.”

Aruba Petroleum released a statement to ThinkProgress today stating, “The facts of the case and the law as applied to those facts do not support the verdict,” and that “Aruba is an experienced oil and gas operator that is in compliance within the air quality limits set by the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.”  

The Parr case has already started to redefine what winning can look like, even though Aruba Petroleum is likely to appeal.

“We hope this lawsuit will make regulators, in Texas and around the country, reexamine their assumptions about fracking’s dangers, and their responsibility to keep the public safe,” Baizel says.

Here is a slide show of images taken in the Barnett Shale region in Texas.

Wed, 2014-04-23 12:18Steve Horn
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Vice President Joe Biden Promotes U.S. as Fracking Missionary Force On Ukraine Trip

During his two-day visit this week to Kiev, Ukraine, Vice President Joe Biden unfurled President Barack Obama's “U.S. Crisis Support Package for Ukraine.”

A key part of the package involves promoting the deployment of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in Ukraine. Dean Neu, professor of accounting at York University in Toronto, describes this phenomenon in his book “Doing Missionary Work.” And in this case, it involves the U.S. acting as a modern-day missionary to spread the gospel of fracking to further its own interests.     

With the ongoing Russian occupation of Crimea serving as the backdrop for the trip, Biden made Vladimir Putin's Russia and its dominance of the global gas market one of the centerpieces of a key speech he gave while in Kiev.

“And as you attempt to pursue energy security, there’s no reason why you cannot be energy secure. I mean there isn’t. It will take time. It takes some difficult decisions, but it’s collectively within your power and the power of Europe and the United States,” Biden said.

“And we stand ready to assist you in reaching that. Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: Keep your gas. It would be a very different world you’d be facing today.”

The U.S. oil and gas industry has long lobbied to “weaponize” its fracking prowess to fend off Russian global gas market dominance. It's done so primarily in two ways.

One way: by transforming the U.S. State Department into a global promoter of fracking via its Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program (formerly the Global Shale Gas Initiative), which is a key, albeit less talked about, part of President Obama's “Climate Action Plan.”

The other way: by exporting U.S. fracked gas to the global market, namely EU countries currently heavily dependent on Russia's gas spigot. 

In this sense, the crisis in Ukraine — as Naomi Klein pointed out in a recent article — has merely served as a “shock doctrine” excuse to push through plans that were already long in the making. In other words, it's “old wine in a new bottle.”

Tue, 2014-04-22 15:27Brendan DeMelle
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Breaking: $3 Million Jury Verdict in Texas Fracking Nuisance Case

A jury in Dallas, TX today awarded $2.925 million to plaintiffs Bob and Lisa Parr, who sued Barnett shale fracking company Aruba Petroleum Inc. for intentionally causing a nuisance on the Parr's property which impacted their health and ruined their drinking water.

The jury returned its 5-1 verdict confirming that Aruba Petroleum “intentionally created a private nuisance” though its drilling, fracking and production activities at 21 gas wells near the Parrs' Wise County home over a three-year period between 2008-2011.

Plaintiffs attorneys claimed the case is “the first fracking verdict in U.S. history.” 

The trial lasted two and a half weeks. Aruba Petroleum plans to appeal the verdict.

The pollution from natural gas production near the Parrs' Wise County home was so bad that they were forced to flee their 40-acre property for months at a time.  

Tue, 2014-04-22 12:30Sharon Kelly
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Very Little Cheap Natural Gas in New York Marcellus Shale, New Report Concludes

For years, the shale industry has touted the economic benefits it can provide. An overflowing supply of domestic natural gas will help keep heating and electric bills low for American consumers, they argue, while drilling jobs and astounding royalty windfalls for landowners will reinvigorate local economies. These tantalizing promises have caught the attention of politicians in Washington, D.C. who argue that the rewards of relying on shale gas outweigh the risks, especially because harm can be minimized by the industry or by regulators.

But across the U.S., communities where drilling has taken place have found that the process brings along higher costs than advertised. Even when properly done, drilling carries with it major impacts — including air pollution, truck traffic, and plunging property values — and when drillers make mistakes, water contamination has left residents without drinking water or cleaning up from disastrous well blow-outs.

And as the shale drilling boom moves into its 12th year, the most crucial benefit claimed by drillers — cheap and abundant domestic fuel supplies — has come increasingly into question. The gas is there, no doubt, but most of it costs more to get it out than the gas is worth.

A new report from New York state, where a de facto shale drilling moratorium has persisted since 2008, concludes that unless natural gas prices double, much of the shale gas in the state cannot be profitably accessed by oil and gas companies.

Fri, 2014-04-18 10:28Steve Horn
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"Russia with Love": Alaska Gas Scandal is Out-of-Country, Not Out-of-State

A legal controversy — critics would say scandal — has erupted in Alaska's statehouse over the future of its natural gas bounty.

It's not so much an issue of the gas itself, but who gets to decide how it gets to market and where he or she resides.

The question of who owns Alaska's natural gas and where they're from, at least for now, has been off the table. More on that later.

At its core, the controversy centers around a public-private entity called the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) created on April 18, 2010 via House Bill 369 for the “purpose of planning, constructing, and financing in-state natural gas pipeline projects.” AGDC has a $400 million budget funded by taxpayers. 

AGDC was intially built to facilitate opening up the jointly-owned ExxonMobil-TransCanada Alaska Pipeline Project for business. That project was set to be both a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export pipeline coupled with a pipeline set to bring Alaskan gas to the Lower 48.    

Photo Credit: TransCanada

Things have changed drastically since 2010 in the U.S. gas market though, largely due to the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom. And with that, the Lower 48 segment of the Alaska Pipeline Project has become essentially obsolete.

Dreams of exporting massive amounts of Alaskan LNG to Asia, however, still remain. They were made much easier on April 14, when the Kenai LNG export facility received authorization to export gas from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Wed, 2014-04-16 13:09Sharon Kelly
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Study Finds Methane Leaks 1,000 Times EPA Estimates During Marcellus Drilling

This week, a United Nations panel on climate change issued one of its most urgent warnings to date, explaining that unless major changes to greenhouse gas emissions are made within the next few years, it will become extraordinarily difficult to ward off the worst impacts of climate change.

We cannot afford to lose another decade,” Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee, told The New York Times

With the time to cut emissions running out, the Obama administration has seized upon the hope that greenhouse gasses can be cut dramatically by switching from coal to natural gas, because gas gives off half as much carbon dioxide as coal when it’s burned. Indeed, when the EPA published its annual greenhouse gas inventory this Tuesday, it credited a switch from coal to natural gas with helping to cut carbon emissions nationwide.

But a new scientific paper, also published Tuesday in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, further upends the notion that the current shale gas drilling rush is truly helping the U.S. cut its total greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, the evidence suggests, the Obama administration has understated the full climate impacts of natural gas, focusing too much on only carbon dioxide and failing to take into account another key greenhouse gas: methane.

The paper, the first to directly measure methane plumes above natural gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale, recorded methane leaks far more powerful than EPA estimates. Methane is especially important because its global warming effects are at their strongest during the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere — in other words, during the small window of time identified as crucial by the U.N.’s climate panel.

Tue, 2014-04-15 12:34Justin Mikulka
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Wine and Milk vs. Oil and Gas: Existing Industries Go Up Against Fossil Fuel Job Promises

Ken Stanton’s 400-cow dairy farm lies in the path of the proposed Constitution Pipeline, which would carry fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York.

Three generations of Stanton’s family spoke in opposition to the pipeline during a packed public comment session at a hearing at Cobleskill-Richmondville high school on March 31.

The pipeline would cut through my land. With eminent domain, there’s nothing I can do. It doesn’t feel like America anymore,” Stanton told the Daily Gazette.  

It’s people like Stanton who stand to lose in the face of new fossil fuel developments, despite the job-creation claims of industry.

Until recently, new projects were justified in the name of American energy independence, but with the new push to lift the Jones act to allow for crude oil exports and the big PR effort to ramp up liquid petroleum gas (LPG) exports, the new spin is job creation. 

Tue, 2014-04-08 05:00Julie Dermansky
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Eight Members of Congress Call for EPA to Reopen Contaminated Water Studies Near Fracking Fields

Eight members of Congress, led by Democratic Representative Matt Cartwright (PA), have written to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking it to “investigate and address” water contamination in Dimock, PA, Parker County, TX, and Pavillion, WY.

The EPA's initial investigations indicated drinking water contamination was caused by oil and gas extraction. The EPA compelled industry to provide clean water to those affected, but later abandoned its investigations without issuing final reports, letting industry off the hook. 

In the letter to Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA, requesting the agency reopen its investigations, the congressmen state, “A patchwork of state regulations, exemptions from many of our federal environmental laws and a lack of enforcement have forced communities living in and near to heavily drilled areas to pay the price for the [fracking] boom.” 

This is welcome news for people like Texan Shelly Perdue, who can set her water on fire. She lives about 600 feet from the Range Resources' hydraulic fracturing site that the EPA held responsible for contaminating Steven Lipsky's well water in 2011.

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